The cares and concerns of vulnerable young people

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1 The cares and concerns of vulnerable young people SNAPSHOT 2011 INTRODUCTION In 2010, around 50,000 young people participated in Mission Australia s ninth annual National Survey of Young Australians. 649 were identified as living in vulnerable circumstances. Mission Australia is a national non-profit organisation that works in the areas of employment, homelessness, children and families, and youth. Our youth services are designed to help at-risk young people engage positively with education, employment, family and the community. In 2010, around 50,000 young people participated in Mission Australia s ninth annual National Survey of Young Australians. The survey asked young Australians aged 11 to 24 about a range of issues including what they value, what their issues of concern are, where they go for advice and support, and how positive they feel about the future. This report focuses on the responses of young people identified as being vulnerable or at-risk by virtue of their housing circumstances. Young people who completed the 2010 National Survey were asked where they were currently living. Based on their responses to this question, 649 (1.3%) respondents were identified as living in vulnerable circumstances. 216 young people were homeless or living in insecure housing, another 216 were living in a juvenile justice centre/prison and 217 were in foster care. The responses of young people in these at-risk groups are compared with those of respondents living in other housing circumstances, comprised of those who were living with family (95.4%), in a share house (1.4%), at boarding school (1.1%), alone (0.6%), with their partner or own children (0.3%), or in other circumstances (0.3%). FINDINGS FROM THE 2010 NATIONAL SURVEY OF YOUNG AUSTRALIANS Three priority issues identified by the survey results for at-risk young people were alcohol, education and independence. The data from the 2010 National Survey indicates that the three vulnerable groups, and particularly the young people who are homeless or in juvenile justice, have a different set of values, concerns and expectations than other survey respondents. These findings have implications for policies and practices related to working with young people who are at-risk. Three priority issues identified by the survey results were alcohol, education and independence. Tables showing the survey results in greater detail are available on Mission Australia s website at 01

2 ALCOHOL Figure 1. Alcohol and other drugs: personal concerns and perceived national issues Homeless % Juvenile justice % Foster care % Other respondents % Percent Alcohol (personal concern) Alcohol and drugs (national issue) ALCOHOL: SUMMARY The National Survey results identify a heightened concern about alcohol among at-risk youth, and research shows that young people in these groups are more likely than their peers to engage in problematic substance use. Addressing alcohol and other drug use in the context of a broad range of supports can be a successful approach to treatment. The results from the National Survey indicate that young people in the at-risk groups were more likely to consider alcohol to be a significant personal concern than other respondents, and about as likely to identify alcohol and other drugs as an issue of national significance. Alcohol was a top personal concern for more than two fifths of the homeless and juvenile justice respondents (around 42%), compared with close to a third of those in foster care (30%) and just over one fifth of other respondents (22%). When asked to identify issues of national concern for Australia, more than 30 per cent of respondents in each group identified alcohol and drugs, ranging from 32 per cent of those who were in juvenile justice to 40 per cent of the homeless group. A young person s concern about alcohol or drugs may not relate to their personal use. Their concern could be related to substance use by their peers, family, or the broader community. However, it is recognised that young people in the at-risk groups are likely to have higher levels of problematic substance use than other young people in the community. Mallett et al. (2003) found that 67 per cent of young homeless people in a Melbournebased study were alcohol or other drugs dependent. Research conducted with juvenile detainees aged 11 to 17 in South Australia found that close to 90 per cent had used alcohol in the past six months and almost half had been alcohol intoxicated at the time of offending (Payne, 2006). A report on the health of young people in NSW juvenile justice facilities found that 66 per cent had been drunk at least weekly in the year prior to custody and 78 per cent were risky drinkers (Indig et al., 2011). Mission Australia s service experience indicates that addressing alcohol and drug use as one among many interconnecting aspects of their lives can be a successful approach to treatment for young people. Such an approach is congruent with current policy directions outlined in the Commonwealth Government s National Strategy for Young Australians and the National Drug Strategy , in which alcohol and drug issues are considered within a broader social inclusion framework. For example, Triple Care Farm is a residential alcohol and drug rehabilitation program for young people aged 16 to 24, run by Mission Australia. The program incorporates a number of elements including case management and counselling, living skills, education, accredited and non-accredited vocational training, sport and recreation, and a medical clinic. A number of positive outcomes have been demonstrated including a reduction in alcohol and illicit drug use (Mission Australia, forthcoming). 02

3 EDUCATION Figure 2. Education: personal values and concerns and perceived national issues Homeless % Juvenile justice % Foster care % Other respondents % Percent School or study satisfaction (value) School or study problems (personal concern) Education (national issue) EDUCATION: SUMMARY While the National Survey results demonstrate that young people who are homeless or in detention are less likely to be concerned about study issues than their peers, research and service experience emphasise the importance for these groups of remaining connected with the education system and offer examples of ways in which this can be achieved. The results from the National Survey identify a range of views on school and study among survey respondents. Those who were homeless or in custody were much less likely than those in foster care or other housing to highly value school or study satisfaction, and were much less likely to be concerned about school or study problems. School or study problems were of concern to around one in 10 of those who were homeless or in juvenile justice, compared with just over a quarter of those in foster care (28%) and other respondents (26%). Research has found that young people in custody have a lower level of engagement with the education system than the general population, with only 38 per cent of young people in one study having attended school in the six months prior to custody (Indig et al,. 2009). Homeless young people are also likely to have a disrupted history of education and to experience poorer educational outcomes than young people in the general population (National Youth Commission, 2008). However, it is recognised that engagement with the education system has important benefits for at-risk young people. A report by UnitingCare Burnside and other agencies (2009, p.4) suggests that support services that include connecting young people with education will equip them to stay out of the juvenile justice system: These support services should have a stronger focus on keeping these children and young people connected with the community, engaged with education and ultimately out of the juvenile justice system, and in turn, the adult prison system. The National Youth Commission s Inquiry into Youth Homelessness (2008) found that schools and the education system are important sites of early intervention to assist young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. It also found that partnerships between schools and community organisations can help young people who are at-risk to remain connected with education, and alternative education settings can be helpful for some young people. Recent government policy also supports the need for at-risk groups to remain connected to education or training (see Commonwealth of Australia, 2008 and NSW Department of Juvenile Justice, 2010). Mission Australia s service delivery experience recognises the value that education can have for young people at risk, and delivers a range of services that work to reduce barriers to accessing education. For example, Creative Youth Initiatives is an inner-city Sydney service that provides a highly specialised and supportive learning environment for young people aged between 16 and 25 years who are facing various challenges in their lives including homelessness, mental health, personal health and financial issues. Skill building is used as a tool for positive change in all areas of a young person s life, as well as developing direct skills in the creative arts. Six and 12-month TAFE-accredited programs designed to engage young people in music, photography, art and other disciplines are offered, and provide pathways to formal qualifications. (Mission Australia, 2006). 03

4 CASE STUDY: POST RELEASE SUPPORT PROGRAM, NORTHERN NSW The North Coast Post Release Support Program engages young people across a range of issues, including problematic substance use, educational needs and pathways to independence. The Program has three sites located in Taree, Kempsey and Lismore. The target group for the program is young people between the ages of 10 to 18 who have spent time in a Juvenile Justice Custody Centre, either on remand or control orders. The primary goal of the Program is to reduce the overall number of clients in custody, by reducing the number of clients who re-offend after serving a control order. By providing a flexible model of service delivery, the program helps to reduce barriers to reintegration and to link young people in with a broad range of supports that continue beyond the duration of their court orders. This may include providing case management support around literacy and numeracy, limited schooling, substance abuse, living skills, mental health issues, family breakdown and homelessness. The level of support offered to clients may vary depending on their individual needs. However, intensive support is provided in the immediate weeks post-release, as this is recognised as a high risk phase for re-offending. Once a client has identified the areas in which they want to seek assistance, staff will work with them to formulate an action plan outlining the necessary steps for them to achieve their goals. The client s participation in this process is paramount to its success as it ensures that they take ownership over their case plan and responsibility for any outcomes that are achieved. When a young person enters the North Coast Post Release Support Program they are provided with a client handbook which explains their rights and responsibilities as a service user. The handbook also explains the steps that clients can take if they are unhappy with the service. When a client has completed the program an exit survey is conducted to give clients an opportunity to provide feedback about the service and the type of support they received. The surveys are reviewed regularly throughout the year to inform the program s service delivery and practice with clients. INDEPENDENCE Figure 3: Being independent and feeling needed and valued: personal values Homeless % Juvenile justice % Foster care % Other respondents % Percent Being independent Feeling needed and valued 04

5 INDEPENDENCE (CONTINUED) Figure 4: Sources of advice and support Homeless % Juvenile justice % 80 Foster care % 70 Other respondents % 60 Percent Friend/s Community agencies Internet Parent/s Relative/ family friend INDEPENDENCE: SUMMARY The survey results show that young people who are at risk are more likely to highly value independence and feeling needed and valued than their peers. This has particular implications for the agencies who work with these groups, as they are likely to be important sources of advice and support for them. The provision of individualised, flexible service delivery with the potential for young people to have some input into decisions about their program, may help to foster a sense of independence and control, and enable young people to feel that they and their opinions are valued. Survey respondents were asked to identify the aspects of personal, family and community life they valued from a list of 10 issues. Young people in the vulnerable groups were more likely than other respondents to highly value feeling needed and valued and being independent. Feeling needed and valued was highly valued by at least a third of the vulnerable groups (34% to 41%), compared with less than a quarter (22%) of other respondents. Being independent was ranked as a top item by more than half (56%) of respondents identifying as homeless, 47 per cent of those in juvenile justice, 39 per cent of those in foster care, and just over a quarter (27%) of other respondents. These findings have particular significance for community service organisations, with which young at-risk people are likely to be in contact. Survey respondents were asked to identify where they turn for advice and support. Although the top source of advice and support for each group was friends, respondents in the homeless and juvenile justice groups were less likely than those in foster care or other housing arrangements to indicate that friends were an important source of advice. The second and third top responses for the homeless and juvenile justice groups were community agencies and the internet, while for those in foster care or other housing circumstances the responses were parents and relative/family friend, respectively. These results indicate that young people in the homeless and juvenile justice groups rely much more heavily on remote or formal sources of advice and support such as community agencies, the internet, the media and professional help-lines, than do respondents in foster care or other housing circumstances. The survey results for being independent and feeling needed and valued have important implications for agencies working alongside at-risk young people. The importance of giving young people shared ownership over decision-making about outcomes and a voice in program design and implementation has been recognised (Ferguson, Kim & McCoy, 2011; Button, 2010), and encouraging the participation of young people and supporting them to advocate for themselves is important in building their resilience and confidence (Ferguson, Kim & McCoy, 2011). Many services working with young people recognise the importance of increasing their sense of independence, responsibility and control by involving them in important decision-making processes. As outlined in the case study on page 4, clients in Mission Australia s North Coast Post Release Support Program are engaged in their own case planning. The ability for young people to participate in this process is absolutely vital as it ensures a feeling of ownership of their case plan and responsibility for the outcomes achieved. A further example is the feedback channels in place for residents at Mission Australia s Triple Care Farm. During their time at the facility, residents participate in a student representative council. This forum enables them to raise issues, suggest ideas for the service and have a voice in decisionmaking. This has had a positive impact on the development of the service and the experience of the clients. 05

6 CASE STUDY: ALAN S STORY Alan s story highlights the negative impact that problematic substance use, educational disengagement and barriers to independence can have on a young person. Alan is 16 years old. He has been living with various members of his extended family for over 10 years as his mother is incarcerated and his father s whereabouts are unknown. Alan is well known to the local police and has been placed in juvenile custody numerous times for offences ranging from shoplifting to common assault. He has recently been released from custody after serving a five month sentence for theft. Alan is keen to become a mechanic and access independent accommodation, instead of sharing with cousins and family. He would also like to get his driving licence, although his recent offences restrict him from applying for a learner s permit for 18 months. To achieve these goals Alan will require assistance as he has significant gaps in his education and struggles with literacy and numeracy. He has been offered a range of training courses and education programs to assist with the development of his reading and writing skills. However, he is anxious in group settings, and copes with this challenge by either not attending or presenting under the influence of alcohol and other drugs. Alan requires financial literacy support to improve the budgeting of his Centrelink payment across a fortnight. He has been suspended from payments due to non-attendance at scheduled appointments. Alan s literacy and numeracy issues are also currently being addressed through a local Links to Learning Program. Although there are some barriers for Alan to engage, he is willing to attend one day per week at the moment. He has been placed in the care of an Aunty with whom he has not stayed with before. She has four other children residing in the house and lives with her partner, which is not ideal. Alan is not familiar with the area in which his Aunty lives and so he often travels into the city to meet up with friends. It is not unusual for Alan to return to his Aunty s house intoxicated and exhausted after sleeping rough for days at a time in the city. With support from the Post Release Support Program Alan has managed to maintain his Centrelink benefit and access to individualised support with a Job Services Australia provider. Alan is working with his Aunty and a local adolescent family counsellor to address accommodation and stability issues which hopefully will strengthen his independence. Alan s alcohol and drug problems continue to be a challenge and Alan is yet unwilling to address these issues. CONCLUSION The experience of services working with at-risk young people highlight the need to support them in a flexible and holistic way. The National Survey results have highlighted some key areas of difference between young people in at-risk groups and those in more stable circumstances: alcohol, education and independence. The work of the Post Release Support Program and other services mentioned in this report illustrate the intersection between these three issues. Problematic substance use can be a longterm and intensive issue to address. Addressing alcohol and other drug use in an holistic context can be a helpful approach to treatment. Remaining connected to the education system can be difficult for at-risk young people. However, it is known to often be an important pathway out of disadvantage, and one that is central to many programs working with at-risk young people. The desire for independence in young people who are in contact with community agencies can continue to be assisted by engaging the young person in their case planning, encouraging their sense of responsibility and valuing their opinion in the process. The survey findings, current research and service expertise point to the complexity of issues facing young people and highlight the need to support them in a flexible and holistic way as they negotiate adolescence and early adulthood. 06

7 REFERENCES Button, E. (2010). Future voices: Developing youth-focused policy and practice at the intersections of voicelessness and homelessness. Issues Paper for discussion at the Future Voices Workshop, 24 June 2010, Flinders University. Commonwealth of Australia. (2008). The Road Home: A national approach to reducing homelessness. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. Ferguson, K., Kim, M. and McCoy, S. (2011). Enhancing empowerment and leadership among homeless youth in agency and community settings: a grounded theory approach in Child Adolesc Soc Work J, 28,1 22. Indig, D., et al. (2011) NSW young people in custody health survey: Full report. Sydney: Justice Health and Juvenile Justice. Mallett, S. et al. (2003). Disrupting stereotypes: Young people, drug use and homelessness. Melbourne: University of Melbourne. Mission Australia. (2006). Youth employment strategy. Sydney: Mission Australia. Mission Australia. (forthcoming). Triple Care Farm: A safe place for change, Sydney: Mission Australia. NSW Department of Juvenile Justice. (2010). Government response to NSW juvenile justice review. Accessed online May 2010 at 20to%20the%20Strategic%20Review%20of%20the%20NSW%20Juvenile%20Justice %20System.pdf UnitingCare Burnside. (2009). Releasing the pressure on remand: Bail support solutions for children and young people in New South Wales. Accessed online May 2010 at http: 07

8 Inspired by Jesus Christ, Mission Australia exists to meet human need and to spread the knowledge of the love of God. Our vision is to see a fairer Australia by enabling people in need to find pathways to a better life. FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT The National Manager, Research and Social Policy, Mission Australia T: (02) F: (02) E: Mission Australia 2011 THANKS This publication would not have been possible without the young people who completed the 2010 National Survey of Young Australians. Our special thanks go to the homeless young people, those in foster care and in juvenile justice who participated in the survey. The Macquarie Group is a diversified international provider of banking, financial, advisory and investment services. Through the Macquarie Group Foundation, Macquarie supports a wide range of community organisations. The Foundation has formed a major partnership with Mission Australia, to enhance its research into key social issues. This research guides Mission Australia s policy development and advocacy, ensuring its employment programs and community services continue to deliver to those most in need. 08

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